22 May 2017 - Geneva, Switzerland - The world is finally acknowledging the fact that TB claims the lives of 1.8 million people worldwide every year, and that 30% of all deaths related to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) are caused by drug-resistant TB globally. Ministers of health of the Group of Twenty (G20) member countries met for the first time in Berlin, Germany on 19 and 20 May to discuss a coordinated global response to global health challenges. The meeting paved the way for the adoption of an ambitious declaration on global health, that recognized TB and as a priority under AMR in paragraphs 23, 30 and 31. In paragraph 32, the Stop TB Partnership was recognized as an important partner, with the Declaration also welcoming the decision by Member States to hold a WHO Ministerial Meeting on TB in November 2017 and a UN High Level Meeting on TB in 2018.
Paragraph 32 reads: We recognise drug-resistant tuberculosis as an important threat and therefore commit to address tuberculosis within interventions for AMR. We acknowledge the need to develop and promote access to new drugs, diagnostics and vaccines to tackle drug-resistant tuberculosis consistent with the WHO End TB Strategy. We recognize the importance of other relevant initiatives and plans, such as the STOP TB Partnership. We welcome the decision by Member States to hold a United Nations HighLevel Meeting on Tuberculosis in 2018 and the WHO Ministerial Conference on Ending TB in the Sustainable Development Era to be held in Moscow in November 2017.
On Sunday 21 May, in line with the adoption of the Declaration and on the eve of the 70th World Health Assembly, the Stop TB Partnership and Unitaid organized a high-level event which focused on tackling AMR through innovation. Unitaid launched a new Call for Proposals with the aim of attracting smart ideas to accelerate access to innovative treatment regimens and diagnostics for tackling MDR-TB. Existing treatments for MDR-TB are long, toxic, with often severe side effects, such as acute psychosis and deafness.
"Given the lingering threat of MDR-TB, we need to develop shorter, simpler, less toxic treatments to effectively tackle it. Unitaid is already investing US$ 60 million to speed up access to new drugs and test their efficacy in resource-limited settings." said Lelio Marmora, Unitaid Executive Director.
Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended a shorter regimen for MDR-TB treatment, lasting 9 to 12 months, with 4 to 6 months of injectable drugs. Patients not eligible for the shorter regimen continue to require 18 to 24 months of treatment, including 8 months of injectable drugs. Currently, the range of treatment options fragments the market for drug-resistant TB, reducing the commercial incentive for innovation and development.
Under this Call, Unitaid aims to speed up the development and adoption of new treatment regimens for MDR-TB linked to simpler and faster TB testing, address market challenges and create the evidence needed to inform WHO guidelines.
"The current available medicines for MDR-TB are a challenge, in any ways you look at it: terrifying side effects including irreversible hearing loss and depression, huge costs - financial and human suffering and death. Therefore, none of us should spare any efforts to ensure that we have the shortest, most efficient and affordable treatment and to make it accessible to all. Drug-resistant TB must be fought with the right tools and we just don’t have them now. Pushing the R&D TB agenda together with the AMR conversation gives me a lot of hope" said Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership.
The G20 Health Ministers underscored the need to "reinvigorate research and development in science and industry for antimicrobials" at their meeting in Berlin yesterday and highlighted the importance of investments made by Unitaid and other health partners in the fight against AMR.
Read the Call for Proposals here